Living in south Louisiana affords unique experiences on a near daily basis, especially in spring. Crawfish are in season and are for sale, live or boiled, at every seafood shack and many gas stations in the area. The King Cakes of Mardi Gras greet you at the entrance to most grocery stores. New Orleans style sno-ball stands are coming to life with preparatory activity in advance of their late spring openings. LSU baseball is in full swing and offers a collegiate baseball experience unlike any other.
Due to the heavy Catholic influence in South Louisiana, Lent is also more consistently observed here than in any other region of the country in which I have lived. The public schools in this area have even historically served fish on Fridays to make the observance of Lent more feasible for students. A good question for protestants: Is Lent a Catholic thing or should protestants observe it as well? That’s a topic that my friend, Amy, addressed in her blog which is worth a read here.
What I would like to discuss is the very common Lenten sacrifice of junk food or unhealthy food. What could be more sacrificial than giving up so many of those great foods I just listed as features of spring in Louisiana? Surely God will see that I love him when I pass on a crawfish boil! Unfortunately, that’s just not how it works for me. Any time I’m dieting, I become the most self-obsessed, vein person in the room – or at least the only one I care to notice. I’m perpetually looking in the mirror to see if that 0.1543 pounds of weight loss this morning is evident in reduced cheek size or chin count. Most of my conversations begin or end with, “I can’t eat that,” or, “How many carbs does that have?” At a time when my understanding of Jesus’ struggle should be enhanced in relation to my small surrender, I usually end up leaving that focus in the ashes as I find ways of cheating (how can sugar free syrup exist, that’s like dehydrated water!) and falling in love with how amazing I look. Not exactly the somber time of reflection on the passion of Christ for which I had hoped.
Even more, I wonder if I should really be “sacrificing” something for Lent that should never have been so dominant in my life in the first place. Jesus, by contrast, was actually God and deserved to be in heaven. But instead of staying in that rightful location, he humbled himself in submission to the Father and came to earth. That’s a far cry from my surrender of Little Debbies for 40 days. So what’s the alternative?
I think Romans 12:1 (ESV) is a good chair passage for the better long-term solution:
“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.”
In the book of Romans, this passage serves as a transition from the doctrine of salvation to the practice of righteousness. How interesting that Paul would appeal to the presentation and offering of our bodies to God as a living sacrifice at the very beginning of his instructions regarding the righteous life. The passage bears several points worth mentioning. Everett Harrison and Donald Hagner articulate these well in the Romans section of the Expositor’s Bible Commentary and are quoted below.
- The verse begins with a view of God’s mercy. “Whereas the pagans are prone to sacrifice in order to obtain mercy, biblical faith teaches that divine mercy already experienced provides the basis for sacrifice as the fitting response.” As such, we don’t sacrifice to find favor with God, we sacrifice our bodies because we, being those who have placed our faith and trust in the person and work of Jesus Christ, are the favored of God.
- Our bodies are to be living sacrifices. Whereas God had previously called for an animal to die on the altar of sacrifice, never to rise again, those who have taken part in the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross will also take part in the resurrection of Jesus from the grave. We are to be daily killing sin and sacrificing ourselves (heart, soul, mind, and strength) in a vibrant life of obedience to God in Christ.
- Our bodies are not evil. “The body is not evil in itself; if it were, God would not ask that it be offered to him. As an instrument it is capable of expressing either sin or righteousness.”
- Presenting our bodies to God is an act of worship.
This means that the decisions that we make on a daily basis with our bodies, whether that be related to food, exercise, stimulants, sex, sleep, or appearance, are all important to God. As such, the decisions that I make about my diet or lifestyle are worship decisions with God in mind rather than vein decisions with the approval of others in mind. This frees me from devoting my life to the potential distractions of constant calorie counting, carb avoiding, or fat gram justifying thoughts and conversations. This releases me from self-inflicted guilt regarding a shorter than expected run or missed day at the gym. This provides opportunity for improved relationships in my home as I no longer talk about how fat I am in the presence of my children who bear my DNA and heredity and will likely one day look as I do (and remember what I said). This frees me from constantly being the guy who is on the next diet or taking the next pill. Because my body is still in this fallen creation, I will never be perfect. I might even be sick, diseased or need to diet or take pills to maintain good health. But my focus will be on pleasing God, not everyone else.
Because of all of this, I’m giving up dieting for Lent. This year, I’m not going to be relating as much to the suffering aspect of Jesus’ death as I am to the obedience aspect of Jesus’ submission. Instead of finding some specific thing to give up, I’m going to really focus this Lenten period on being who I should be all year, a worshiper of God in the decisions that I make regarding my body. Will I abstain from certain foods that I would have previously eaten? Sure. Will I exercise more? Sure. But the difference will be my reason for doing it – in view of God’s mercy.
A few questions to provoke you in this area as I have been provoked by God’s word:
- Do your dietary choices reflect thankfulness in God’s provision for you while also celebrating God’s gracious gifts like flavor and taste?
- Does your body, in its current state, help you to accomplish more for the kingdom of God or does it restrict your usefulness?
- Are you maintaining the resource of your body as if God has plans for you to work in the kingdom fields for 100 years?
- What is one practical way that you might offer your body as a living sacrifice to God during these weeks leading up to Easter and hopefully beyond?
Image By: Evan-Amos (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons